During this year’s election campaign, capturing the vote of Pennsylvania’s seniors should have been a high priority for both candidates running for governor. PA currently ranks 4th in the U.S. for total percentage of population age 65 and older (behind Florida, West Virginia, and Maine), and we are tied for 3rd for population age 85 and older. In 2010, older Pennsylvanians numbered 1.90 million (15% of the population). These numbers are expected to increase over the next 20 years to 2.40 million (19%) in 2020, and 2.89 million (23%) in 2030 (PA State Data Center). The issues surrounding health care for this population affect not only seniors themselves, but also their families and a significant portion of our economy as well. Therefore, we all should be paying attention to government initiatives relating to the programs, costs, and oversight of health care for seniors, at both state and federal levels.
What can we expect from Governor Elect Tom Wolf? His campaign website refers to a study that was conducted by AARP in conjunction with two organizations which work to advance care for older adults. This study ranked all 50 states on various measures related to long term care services and supports, including affordability and access, choice of setting and provider, quality of life and care, support for family caregivers, and effective transitions (the results of this study can be found at www.longtermscorecard.org). Governor Elect Wolf called Pennsylvania’s ratings “unacceptable,” and outlined some of his ideas to improve services for seniors.
One of the priorities mentioned on his website is to improve the ability of seniors to remain in their homes and make their own health care choices when their care needs increase. His plans to achieve this goal include:
- “Increase income eligibility requirement for those accessing home and community-based care”
- “Expand health eligibility requirements for those accessing home and community-based care”
- “Improve access to home and community-based care services”
Governor Elect Wolf also seeks to support home care workers through the following initiatives:
- “Create an online state registry of skilled homecare workers so that families can easily identify competent caregivers”
- “Promote the use of training, professional development, and licensing programs for homecare workers”
- “Support the efforts of these workers to form a union and secure living wages”
Our long term care system currently is not coordinated and is difficult to navigate. Budgetwise, at the present level, it cannot financially sustain the growing numbers of our elderly individuals in need of care. In addition, family caregivers who provide the majority of care for the elderly are decreasing in number as our population demographics change. Long-term care for seniors needs to remain a priority when Governor Elect Wolf takes office, and initiatives need to be implemented which will improve Pennsylvania’s system of care for this vulnerable population if we hope to prevent a full-blown crisis.
Karen Kaslow, RN